Statement by UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Matthew Kahane on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2004

10 Dec 2004

Statement by UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Matthew Kahane on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2004
Right Honourable Prime Minister,
Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission,
Members of the National Human Rights Commission,
Ambassadors and Representatives of the diplomatic community,
Distinguished guests.

It is fitting that the celebration of Human Rights Day in Nepal is focused here at the National Human Rights Commission, which is the country’s statutory body promoting and protecting human rights. In the relatively short time of its existence, the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal has worked hard to establish itself on a firm basis. As a result of those efforts, the Commission has raised its profile nationally and internationally as the nation’s foremost defender of human rights. The United Nations is  among the most active supporters of the Commission and we are appreciative of the encouragement we have received from His Majesty’s Government to provide the Commission with substantial technical and logistical assistance.

In that connection, I am very pleased to announce that the global capacity development project for the Commission by UNDP has just been signed by His Majesty’s Government. This means that it is now up to the international community to show its support for the National Human Rights Commission as it expands its presence into five regional centres across the country. His Majesty’s Government has also just recently announced that it has signed the memorandum of understanding with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The MOU will facilitate the provision of technical assistance in the form of international advisers to the Commission, particularly with respect to monitoring and reporting on human rights violations. These are welcome signs of Government’s commitment and indeed, the presence here today of the Right Honourable Prime Minister is an important indication of Government’s recognition of the crucial and unique role that the Commission plays in Nepal.

We are also very pleased to be joined here today by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, one of the special procedures of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which is based in Geneva. We are confident that their mission will ultimately help to improve the human rights situation here and we hope that His Majesty’s Government will similarly invite other special procedures which have already requested to visit the country.

On this human rights day, special note must also be taken of the excellent work being carried out under very difficult conditions by the country’s many human rights NGOs as well as the media. The work being carried out by the NGOs, in particular, and the valuable information they provide make possible the effective functioning of the United Nations human rights mechanisms, including both special procedures and the treaty monitoring bodies. They certainly deserve more recognition, support and encouragement in their defence of human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,
These are extremely difficult times for the Nepali people and the Nepali nation. This year has seen the insurgency intensify to levels of violence and brutality that this country had not seen before. The militarization of what began as a political conflict has now taken the lives of more than 10,000 Nepalese and has led the country further and further away from political reconciliation and peaceful resolution. Massive, grave and systematic human rights violations characterize the present conflict in Nepal. On the one side there is a policy of assassination and execution aimed at destroying the last vestiges of civil administration and infrastructure in most of the country. We are also seeing mass abductions, particularly of children and youth with a view to indoctrinating and arming them, effectively putting them on the front lines of the conflict. This turn of events alone – the widespread involvement of children in the armed conflict – threatens to leave a legacy of brutality and lost generations that will haunt the country for many many years to come. On the other side of the conflict, we have seen an undeniable pattern of disappearance, execution and torture that has been employed so widely and indiscriminately that it doubtlessly continues to drive large numbers of ordinary people into the arms of the insurgents. Both sides claim that they aim to win the hearts and minds of the people. But what we can all clearly see instead is that there are only more and more innocent people counted as casualties of the conflict. What is not easily seen is equally alarming, namely that the country is being emptied of much of its rural population. More and more Nepalese – particularly the youth – are fleeing from Nepal to escape from the wanton death and destruction caused by both sides of the conflict. And as they flee, they take with them the hope of the nation for its future.

There is no denying that Nepal is in the throes of a deepening crisis of grave proportions. There are, however, two essential tools that are indispensable if Nepal’s leaders are to break the cycle of intensifying violence and militarization.

The first tool is a respect for fundamental human rights, including an end to the pervasive climate of impunity on both sides of the conflict. Human rights violations are not only intolerable but they are counter-productive for anyone who claims to be fighting for the people. Respect for human rights is an essential tool for any military commander wishing to instill discipline, command and control over his troops. The present climate of impunity must be combated actively and with determination.

Additionally, both sides need urgently to reverse the involvement of children in the conflict: the Maoists by ending their abductions, indoctrination and recruitment of children; the security forces by ensuring the special treatment and protection of children in their rules of engagement aiming at the rehabilitation and reintegration of the child. Both sides should urgently consider signing a human rights accord aimed at ending the abuses and atrocities that are emptying the countryside. The hearts and minds of the people are indeed the key to victory in this conflict and the road to those hearts and minds is respect for human rights.

The second essential tool for breaking the cycle of violence is a strong and effective National Human Rights Commission. This means that, above all, the Commission must be allowed to carry out its work as mandated under the Human rights Commission Act and provided for in the Human Rights Commitment announced by His Majesty’s Government on 26 March 2004. This should include full and unhindered access, without prior notice, to all places of detention, which is recognized internationally as vital to any effective human rights monitoring. Such visits would go far in helping His Majesty’s Government to prevent disappearances, executions and torture. It is also important to note that we are now less than six months away from the expiration of the tenures of the Commission’s chairperson and its members. We have raised the issue already with Prime Minister, who has given his assurances that he was giving this issue his utmost attention.

The international community is following the matter closely and hopes that it will be addressed not only speedily but also through a process that takes into account the political sensitivities and the legal complexities of the present situation.

In closing, I would like to congratulate the NHRC, its members and Secretariat, for the strong internal structures they have built up over the last few months and for the excellent work they are doing. And I wish once again to express my appreciation to the Prime Minister for his continuing support for the work of the Commission. The United Nations will continue to assist its national partners in His Majesty’s Government, the National Human Rights Commission and civil society in their efforts to work together towards the common goal of a peaceful and democratic Nepal where the fundamental human rights of all are fully respected. Now, more than ever, the future of the nation depends on the success of those efforts.

Thank you.